From Mechanics to Robotics

March 04, 2023

Aditya Jayant Ganapathiraju has been passionate about cars for as long as he can remember. Growing up in India, he could identify every car on the road by the time he was six years old.

So it’s no surprise that he chose mechanical engineering as his major when he enrolled in undergraduate studies at the Institute of Technology in India. From there, he came to Penn Engineering to pursue a master’s degree in mechanical engineering and applied mechanics with a specialization in robotics. In this Q&A, he talks about his interest in engineering and his experiences at Penn. 

How did you choose engineering as a career?

I come from a family of mostly lawyers, so I was expected to go into some aspect of law myself. But my grandfather was a mechanical engineer, so when I was growing up, I got to see what engineering was like. And I’ve always loved cars and other mechanical things. So when I went to college, I majored in mechanical engineering.

At Penn, you’re specializing in robotics. What sparked your interest in that?

I took a machine learning course about prediction and autonomous vehicles, and that made me want to learn more about robotics. But I’d had experiences with robotics before, because I was fascinated by the Terminator. That thing still terrifies me! I’m nowhere close to building something like that, and I really hope we won’t build it—because we know what happens. 

Why Penn Engineering? 

Ever since I was a kid, my dad would tell stories about great institutions like Stanford, Oxford and the Ivy League. And I knew Penn was an Ivy. So I researched institutions online, and when I saw the literature for the first time, something just clicked. 

How was your transition to a US university? 

Coming to the US was really interesting, because everything here is different compared to India. Everything is a little bit faster here, and the way of life is different. Overall, I’ve found it to be extremely agreeable.

What’s your experience been like so far? 

Penn has been very supportive. When I’m struggling, I’ve learned to immediately contact the professor, because most of them are immensely helpful. They give you a path you can take to learn the material. And the teaching staff are incredibly generous and accommodating, even late at night. And the teaching is outstanding. My machine learning professor, for example, has worked for all the big tech companies—Google, Amazon, Microsoft—and he’s an excellent teacher. It was invigorating to be in his class.